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Monday, 13 August 2007
Page: 28

Mr FAWCETT (2:17 PM) —My question is addressed to the Prime Minister. Would the Prime Minister provide some further information to the House as to how Australian working families benefit from disciplined economic management? Is the Prime Minister aware of any differing approaches to managing the economy?

Mr HOWARD (Prime Minister) —I say to the member for Wakefield, who represents very effectively in this House thousands of working families in the electorate of Wakefield, that his concern for working families has been very strong and evident in the more than 2½ years that he has been a member of this parliament. I notice in every speech that is made by the Leader of the Opposition and every speech that is made by a prominent member of the Labor Party that there is a professed concern for working families. I therefore want to take the concern of the Leader of the Opposition at face value and remind him that his concern for working families has been well listened to by this government and that over the last 11½ years the number of families in work has dramatically increased. We now have the lowest unemployment rate in Australia for 33 years.

In the 12 months to June this year, the long-term unemployment rate in Australia—that is the number of people out of work for more than one year—fell by no less than 29 per cent. Not only is the level of long-term unemployment at its lowest since the statistic began to be kept but there cannot be any period of a year since that statistic was separately kept when the long-term unemployment rate would have fallen by such a sharp figure.

There can be only one explanation for that. The explanation is that the government’s new workplace relations system, which the Labor Party, directed to do so by the union movement, will dismantle if it wins the next election, has made it easier for small business to take on more staff. There can be no other explanation because, while over the last number of years there has been a steady decline in the number of long-term unemployed, for it to fall by no less than 29 per cent in the space of a year must at the very least owe an enormous amount to our industrial relations policy and owe an enormous amount to the removal of the unfair dismissal laws which Labor is pledged to bring back.

In answering questions asked by the Leader of the Opposition earlier, I made the observation that, even after the most recent interest rate rise, interest rates on housing loans in Australia, at 8.3 per cent, will be a full 4½ per cent lower than the average during the 13 years of the previous government. On an average mortgage of $235,000, a home owner would have paid on average $1,416 a month in mortgage payments under the current government, compared to $2,497 a month if the average rate under the former government still applied. That is a difference of $1,081. Real wages of Australian workers have risen by 20.8 per cent over the last 11 years and only the top 40 per cent of Australian households pay net income tax when you take into account the impact of family tax benefits. Finally, research by the OECD shows Australia has one of the fairest and most redistributive tax and income support systems in the OECD.

All of those things give the lie to the warnings that were given more than a decade ago that a coalition government led by me would dismantle the social security safety net. The member for Wakefield asked me what the alternatives are. The real alternative to this general level of prosperity for working families—although, I acknowledge, not all of them are sharing to the full the bounty of current prosperity—the biggest single threat is rolling back our industrial relations reforms. Rolling back those reforms will, in the opinion of Econtech, cost us 300,000 jobs, increase interest rates by 1.4 per cent and reintroduce the unwanted thuggery of union bosses into many workplaces. But, worse than all of that, they will send a signal to the Australian community and the rest of the world that this country has lost the stomach for long-term reform. Today’s prosperity is a product of yesterday’s reforms and, if we abandon today’s reforms, the prosperity of tomorrow will be put at risk.